In part 1 and part 2 of our 4 part series, we talked about listening and what is happening when our children don’t always listen to us. We discussed that when ‘acting up’ children are often only looking for a way of communicating with you because they feel distant. In the final 2 parts of the series we are going to look at 4 key strategies that you can adopt that can help your children listen to you more effectively.
All parents have experienced feelings such as anger, frustration, impatience and exasperation when it comes to our children. We are only human after all! What you may have noticed however, is that when children misbehave, or don’t listen to you and YOU react, this can lead to reactive behaviour in them.
Strategy 1: Managing Your State
It is important therefore, that before you can even think about managing your child’s negative feelings, you need to first get to know your own triggers and train yourself to be calm, still and able to deal with the situation in a way that is least likely to trigger a negative or emotional response from your child.
Try and notice your state and how you are feeling, recognise it, but try not to act on it, instead:
- Walk away and compose yourself (even for a few seconds)
- Take a deep breath
- Tell your child that you are not ignoring them, but instead that you feel (angry, upset etc.) and just need to calm down and then talk about the situation.
Remember, that we are modeling behaviours to our children that we want them to adopt. If our children see us manage our state, then they will also learn these behaviours as they grow up. It is easy even as an adult to react to our negative emotions. Unfortunately in an adult-child relationship, someone has to be the adult if we want to teach our children to be calm.
Strategy 2: Managing Your Child’s Negative Feelings
In part 2 we discussed what discipline should actually be about teaching our children, rather than viewing this as punishment. So, now that we are viewing discipline in a different light, we can try and use some preventative strategies to reduce the behaviour problems in the first place. One of the most important first steps is to create an environment where children can feel significant within safe boundaries.
Children need parameters, they make them feel more secure. They also help to reduce the negative feelings they have as they feel a sense of belonging. Examples of this boundary setting can be seen in schools. This is how they get children to co-operate.
Let’s look at some examples of how you can do this at home.
At school: Teachers create a safe environment where children are given choices within school rules to be independent and significant.
At home: Make some rules e.g. put your toys away the first time you are asked – when they do this they could be rewarded with a sticker.
At school: Every lesson has objectives and expectations shared with the children so they know what is happening. They are often involved in the decision making of some school tasks.
At home: Devise a calendar or schedule where children know what to expect and this will help them with their time management. Take into consideration key times your child may be hungry or tired for example and be prepared for those situations!
At school: Descriptive praise and positive reinforcement are used for expected behaviour.
At home: Use the same skills at home, state your observations and be specific with your praise. “Well done, I noticed how kind you were to your brother when putting away his toys.”
It is difficult as a parent to deal with our children’s negative feelings, we of course only want to see our children happy. It is vital however that we allow our children to feel these negative feelings, and also equip them with the tools and guidance they need to manage them. We need to facilitate a safe and nurturing environment for children to express themselves and how they feel.
In the past it has often been that showing your emotions (especially for little boys) was seen as a weakness, or a negative behaviour. It is also tempting to fix the problem to make these feelings go away. Neither are a useful way of helping your child cope.
So here are some tips to help you when your child has negative feelings. Always:
- Acknowledge your child’s perspective – you need to connect with them in this way before you can redirect them.
- Help your child process their feelings through play. This could help your child let out an inner conflict that they are not yet able to verbalise.
- Help your child recognise and name the feeling they are having.
- Remember to keep your own emotions in check and manage your state (strategy 1).
- Offer reassurance and contact – a warm touch, a hug or a stroke on the cheek if a powerful way to communication peace with your child.
We have looked at feelings a lot in this blog post because they are a key element to any behavioural based situation. If you are able to identify your feelings and your children’s feelings and understand how they may be having a more negative effect on a situation, then this is a key turning point to be able to communicate more effectively with your child. In the next post we will cover 2 more strategies to help you to get your child to listen to you.